The Northern Way

The Saga of Eirek the Traveler - Translation by Peter Tunstall

© 2005 Peter Tunstall

1. Eirek's Vow

Thrand is the name of the first king to rule over Thrandheim. He had a son called Eirek, a well-liked man even from a young age. He was strong in body, brave and excelled at everything; grew up big.

It's told that one Yule Eve Eirek made this solemn vow: that he would travel the whole world in search of the place which heathen men call The Deathless Acre, and Christians the Land of Living Folk, or Paradise. This vow became famous throughout Norway.

The following summer Eirek fits out a magnificent ship and sets sail for Denmark. There were twelve in his ship. The king of the Danes had a son himself, who was also called Eirek. The Danish king and his son invited Eirek Thrandarson to stay the winter with them, and he accepted. The two Eireks became friends and entered into partnership, and they were alike in many respects. And in the following spring Eirek the Dane decided to join his namesake on the expedition. His party also consisted of twelve.

They sailed now and headed for Miklagard1 and they arrived there just as the Greek king was raising an army to fight against raiders, who were making frequent attacks on his realm. And when the king of the Greeks heard of the arrival of Norsemen he asks to see them and received them with honour, asking them who they were and where they came from and which way they were bound. Eirek says that they're Norsemen, kings' sons, and that they mean to explore the world.

Then the Greek king honoured them exceedingly well in all respects. And when they'd been there a some time they performed many great deeds, with boldness and much good sense, and defended the realm of the Greek king very well. And when the king saw that they were stronger than just about any other men in the land, he prized them highest of all and bestowed on them ranks and distinctions and honours, and even took them into his service, and he employed them on the best terms, out of all his men. It's said that this was the first time Norsemen took honours out in Miklagard.2

2. Eirek Stayed in Miklagard

It's said that one day Eirek of Norway asked the king, “Who made heaven and earth?”

The king says, “One made them both.”

Eirek asked, “Who is that?”

The king answers, “God Almighty, who is one God, but of three aspects.”

Eirek said, “What are these three aspects?”

The king says, “Consider the sun. In it there are three aspects: fire, brightness and heat, and yet it's all one sun. So also in God, there's Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and yet he's one in his omnipotence.”

Eirek said, “He is a great god, this one, to have made heaven and earth. Tell me now something of his greatness.”

The king said, “God is one, alone, without equal and unsurpassable. He's above all things and endures all things, and he holds the ends of the earth in his hand.”

Eirek said, “Does God know all things?”

The king says, “He alone knows all before him.”

And when the king had said that, Eirek wondered much at the greatness of God.

Eirek said, “Where does God live, in heaven or earth?”

The king says, “He rules in the heavens and that is his kingdom. There's neither sickness nor weeping there, nor death, no sadness and no grief. There is always joy and everlasting bliss and gladness and heavenly pleasures without end.”

Eirek said, “Who live there with God?”

The king said, “Holy angels live there. God made them as servants for himself at the beginning of time. God Almighty made himself a bright hall. He called that hall the Kingdom of Heaven. Then he made a dark dungeon--that is this world which we live in. In it he set a deep pit, which is called hell. In that place is every kind of torment with fire, and there the souls of the wicked are tortured. Satan rules over that pit, the enemy of all mankind, but God Almighty bound him firmly after his Passion. Then he rose on the third day after the death of his body. And on the fortieth day he ascended up to heaven where all the kingdom of God is prepared, for knights and hosts, and all this will serve to fill the gap left when the angels went bad, and God will make up the numbers with people who have lived pure lives.”

Eirek said, “What is that pit which you say is in the earth?”

The king said, “That's the land of death which is prepared for sinful men, and it's called hell. In that place is every sort of torment with everlasting fire. There wicked men are punished.”

Eirek asked, “Who are they?”

The king says, “Heathens all, and traitors to God.”

Eirek asked, “Why are all heathens bad?”

The king says, “Because they will not worship God, their maker.”

Eirek said, “Do we not worship Gods?”

The king says, “They're not God, because wretched things are told of them, how wickedly they died and what criminal lives they lived. Their souls are now in eternal fire and unquenchable torments.”

Eirek said, “I have never heard of anything like this about them before now.”

The king says, “That's why your beliefs are mistaken, because you never heard of this, but if you wish to believe in everlasting God, who is in trinity, then after death you will go to him in eternal bliss.”

Eirek said, “I would like that, to get eternal life after death.”

The king says, “You will achieve this wish if you believe in everlasting God and then take holy baptism, and you will then be brought to life in his body and blood and become a friend of God. Accept Christ and praise him well in all things.”

Eirek said, “I'll do exactly what you urge. But tell me what I ask you: Where is hell?”

The king says, “Under the earth.”

Eirek asked, “What is above the earth?”

“Sky,” says the king.

Eirek asked, “What is above the sky?”

“The Firmament-Heaven. In that heaven are all the stars like burning fire.”

Eirek said, “What is above the firmament?”

“Waters are fixed there, as cloud.”

“What is above the waters?”

“The Spiritual Heaven, and it's believed that angels live here.”

“What is above that heaven?”

“The Heaven Apart. In that heaven God himself and his kingdom may be seen, by those who are capable of this.”

Then Eirek was amazed at how wise the king was and said, “How great and sublime and unsurpassable your wisdom is. Tell me, if you know, how great is the breadth of the earth?”

The king says, “You're curious, Eirek, and you want to know many things, those which are irrelevant and unusual and very obscure. But to answer your question, hear what I say, and learn: The circumference of the earth, wise men tell, is a hundred and eighty thousand leagues, and it's not held up by any pillars, but by God's omnipotence.”

Eirek asked, “How far is it between heaven and earth?”

“You are curious, Eirek,” says the king, “From earth to the highest heaven it's said to be one hundred thousand, three hundred and eighty-five miles.”

Eirek asked, “What lies around the outside of the earth?”

“A great sea, which is called Ocean.”

Eirek asked, “What is the most distant land in the southern part of the world?”

The king answered, “India-land, we say, marks the ends of the earth in that part of the world.”

Eirek asked, “Where is that place which is called The Deathless Acre?”

The king says, “We call that Paradise, or the Living Land.”

Eirek asked, “Where is it situated?”

The king says, “The country is east of furthest India.”

Eirek asked, “Can I get there?”

“I don't know about that,” says the king, “A wall of fire stands before it, which reaches right up to heaven.”

And when the king had told Eirek all that, and much more besides, Eirek fell at the king's feet and said, “I beg you, best of kings, for your help to speed my journey, for I stand in great need on account of my vow, for I solemnly vowed to go south through the world in search of The Deathless Acre, and I know that I have no chance of getting there without your help.”

The king says, “Stay the next three years here with us and then go, since you're in need of my help, and you must heed all my warnings. Be baptised and I will assist you.”

Eirek quizzed the king about the rewards of righteousness and the pains of hell. He asked too about the peoples and regions of the world, about seas and distant lands and all about the eastern and southern parts of the world, about mighty kings and various islands, about deserts and about those places they had to cross, about strange and wondrous races, and how they dressed, and the customs of many nations, about vipers and winged dragons and all sorts of animals and birds, about great hoards of gold and jewels. The king answered these enquiries, and many others, well and wisely. After this, they were baptised, Eirek and his men.

Notes

1. Byzantium (Constantinople).

2. Norsemen served the Byzantine emperors during the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries, forming an elite regiment known as the Varangian Guard.

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